Review: The incredible War Horse gallops into Woking

PUBLISHED: 15:03 03 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:34 03 August 2018

War Horse Tour. Picture by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

War Horse Tour. Picture by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

It has been more than a decade since War Horse was first immortalised for the stage – followed by Spielberg’s big screen hit in 2011 – yet I’m rather ashamed to admit that until earlier this week, I had never seen any adaptation of, let alone read, Michael Morpurgo’s much-loved 1982 novel

The award-winning National Theatre production telling the truly unforgettable story of a young boy called Albert and his horse Joey, recently galloped into Woking for a three-week run at New Victoria Theatre and I was champing at the bit to go see it.

In the year that commemorates the centenary of the end of the First World War, the tale is particularly poignant. For those who aren’t familiar with the narrative, it begins just before the outbreak of the war, when Devon farm boy, Albert Narracott, strikes up an unbreakable relationship with a horse his father brings home after a drunken bid at auction. But as war breaks, the friends are separated when Joey the horse is sold to the army. What follows is a heart-warming story of reconciliation and reunion – one that is now aptly referred to as the “greatest anthem for peace” ever performed.

War Horse Tour. Picture by Brinkhoff/MoegenburgWar Horse Tour. Picture by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

The difficulty I had with the idea behind the production is how you could, realistically, bring one of its main protagonists – a horse – to life on stage. Well, that’s all down to the ground-breaking puppetry work by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.

I’ve seen works of puppetry before, some good, some bad, but in every case I have always been very aware of the puppeteers at work. However, Joey’s controllers some how manage to absorb themselves into the horse’s cage-like form, superbly manifesting its emotions, mannerisms and noises. It’s a bizarre yet totally ingenious concept and it works, I felt like we were watching a real life horse.

War Horse Tour. Picture by Brinkhoff/MoegenburgWar Horse Tour. Picture by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

That coupled with particularly touching performances by Thomas Dennis (Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time) as Albert and Peter Becker as Friedrich Muller, as well as comical offerings from Marcus Adolphy’s portrayal of Sergeant Thunder and Toyin Omari-Kinch’s David Taylor, make this a must-see for all the family.

To me, it really is no wonder War Horse is the most successful play in the National Theatre’s history. In fact, I’m quite glad my first experience of the story was the stage production. As Michael Morpurgo explains: “War Horse the book has grown from literary obscurity to sustained bestseller status… the book is no better than it was, that’s for sure. The film helped but Shakespeare was right, ‘The play’s the thing…’ That has transformed the fortunes of this book.”

War Horse is at New Victoria Theatre in Woking until Saturday August 18.

Tickets from £22.40. Tel: 0844 871 7645 Web: www.atgtickets/woking.

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